Howard Beach resident Dorie Pearlman is tired of waiting for justice.
When her only son, 18-year-old Richard Pearlman, died Sept. 11, 2001, after responding to the city Fire Department’s call for help from trained emergency personnel, she was able to take some comfort in the following years with the thought that the federal government would honor the member of the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps as a hero.
This, she said, has yet to happen.
The U.S. Department of Justice denied in August Dorie Pearlman’s application to receive funds from the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program, which the government set up to give one-time payments of $250,000 to the families of first responders who die in the line of duty.
According to the government, Richard Pearlman was not acting in an official capacity when he responded Sept. 11 and thus his family is not eligible to participate in the program.
“Here’s a young man who did exactly what he was supposed to do, and they’ve smacked us in the face,” Dorie Pearlman said. “Because he was not a paid employee in the government, because he was a volunteer, his life is worth less?”
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) became an advocate for Dorie Pearlman after the government’s denial and an appeal hearing on the matter was held in the congressman’s office at the end of January. Justice is expected to rule on the appeal within the next several weeks.
“Anyone who reviewed the facts of this case know one thing — the Department of Justice needs to grant Richard Pearlman’s family the benefits they deserve,” Weiner said. “This man died answering the call to duty while helping his fellow New Yorkers on that terrible day. The least we can do is give his family the financial assistance they are entitled to. The Public Safety Officers Benefits program was created for people like Richard, and that is why I am hopeful the Department of Justice makes the right decision.”
A spokeswoman from the Department of Justice said 280 of their 334 death claims were approved.
“The loss of someone committed to public service is a tragedy, especially someone so young” the Department of Justice said in a statement. “Our sympathies are with Richard Pearlman’s family. Mr. Pearlman acted courageously and selflessly while assisting those who were injured in the World Trade Center. Although the initial ruling was not favorable, an independent hearing officer is currently considering an appeal of this claim and there is an opportunity for further appeal should the family wish to pursue it.”
As part of the appeal, Weiner’s office said city Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano will send a message to Justice Department explaining the Fire Department asked all emergency personnel, including volunteers, to assist on Sept. 11.
“They’re saying the volunteer ambulance corps is not a public agency, but on Sept. 11 the government requested our assistance,” said Alan Wolfe, president of the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps and a friend of Richard Pearlman’s. “Even though the agency is not public, we were working as a public agency that day.”
As she waits for recognition from the government, Dorie Pearlman said she takes some solace in memories of her son. Richard Pearlman was a Beach Channel High School graduate and a Boy Scout who had been volunteering in the ambulance corps since he was 13. He had plans to attend LaGuardia Community College to become a paramedic.
“He was the kind of person who would do anything for anybody,” Dorie Pearlman said. “He was a good kid trying to do something to help out, and this is his reward.”
The mother, who has a 29-year-old daughter, said her son “died the way he lived — helping.”
Wolfe said he came to know the younger Pearlman as a dedicated public servant who was “always down at the ambulance corps.”
“He lived in Howard Beach but always found a way to get down to Forest Hills, whether that meant he had to take a couple buses,” Wolfe said. “He was looking forward to becoming an emergency medical technician. He was always a happy kid.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson
©2010 Community News Group
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